Monday, July 25, 2011

Building The Tube

This morning the Transport Committee met to take evidence from TfL. In the hot seats were board member Christopher Garnett, who chairs TfL's rail and underground panel and veteran engineer David James, brought in post PPP to run the new Independent Investment Programme Advisory Group or IIPAG for short.

IIPAG comprises eight experienced engineers and project managers from the rail industry. They are reviewing the projects carried out under PPP with the aim of saving over £1 billion and improving delivery. IIPAG reports, we were told, send tough messages about what needs to be done, messages that are respected because of the experience of the Group. We had to take their word on this as the IIPAG reviews are not public documents and we don't get to see them. The reports are considered by TfL's Finance Committee who are regarded as much tougher than previous boards - Christopher Garnett memorably described the boards that Ken Livingstone appointed as 'malleable'. Meanwhile, the results will be summarised in an annual report from IIPAG which will be a public document.

On the positive side, David James reported that PPP had created a comprehensive register of London Underground assets, documenting the state of each line - something which was not previously available. Current performance was also good, with the Northern Line unusually delivering its best results ever and the Piccadilly not far behind. Of course things aren't so good on the Jubilee and we would return to that later.

On the negative side, IIPAG had concluded that project management skills in TfL were not equal to delivering major upgrade work. Skilled people were available but TfL would have to recruit them and pay a competitive rate - including a bonus for successful completion of projects on time and within budget. IIPAG had recommended that TfL set up a central project management team with an overview of both railways and surface transport. Instead TfL planned to set up two teams, keeping these areas separate. This was a bone of contention with IIPAG claiming it would lead to extra costs and division across projects, when 80% of the work was being done in London Underground.

IIPAG was benchmarking the various lines against one another to identify best practice, but they did not see the value of benchmarking with other metros at this stage, because the London system is older and larger than most, with a greater number of deep level lines.

Victoria Line

A review of the work done on this project concluded that the work had gone well, particularly on the new signal system. The only problem had arisen because new train doors were over sensitive and the trains had not been sufficiently run in before they were introduced.

Jubilee Line

The Jubilee resignalling project had not gone well and there were lessons to be learned. IIPAG recommended that future line upgrades should be done in sections rather than across the whole line to reduce disruption. They also recommended testing of signalling and train IT off line before their introduction and earlier involvement of the drivers and signallers who would have to use the kit.

Surprisingly the specification for the Jubilee Line signalling had ruled out two directional working as an unnecessary refinement. This mistake would not be repeated.

Northern Line

An established signalling system would be used in the Northern Line upgrade, minimizing the risk of breakdown. This time the contract was between London Underground and the supplier, so LU's responsibilities were clear. The Northern Line project was due for completion before the complex sub surface line resignalling started.

Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan

Resignalling of the sub surface lines was the next big project. Composed of over 40 individual projects a high level of oversight was required. IIPAG had recommended the appointment of a leading industry figure, and they would be monitoring the progress of the project - including costs - carefully.

The new signalling system was the same as the one recently installed at Madrid with no weekend closures! Whilst closures could not be ruled out in London they would be kept to an absolute minimum, certainly fewer than experienced in other recent Tube upgrades.

Bakerloo, Central, Piccadilly

Upgrades on these lines were due to complete in 2017/18 but they had fallen back because of a shortage of funding. London Underground would be making the case to government for the funding of the last three PPP projects, thus completing a process that feels like it started a lifetime ago.


691 trolleybus fan said...

I had occasion today to travel into central London for the first time in about 6 years. I took the Central Line from my home station to Stratford, and then the Jubilee Line to Green Park.

The underground sections of the Jubilee Line [after Canning Town to Green Park] must qualify for the title of "world's noisiest railway". Transport historians will recall that the line was a botched job that looked set to open too late to connect with the "Millenium Dome" - a vanity project for Bliar and Ken. The line therefore opened with a grossly inadequate signalling system, and without the acoustic treatment that ought to have been given to the tunnel walls to give passengers (sorry - "customers"!) a better experience on their journeys.

Is it too late?

Roger Evans said...

The world's noisiest railway could have been the Central Line between Stratford and Liverpool Street prior to the introduction of the current rolling stock. Lots of bouncing around which could throw passengers from their seats and when the train passed the air shaft at Old Ford the sudden change of air pressure used to make my hair stand on end - it was some time ago...

Recent efforts - and delays - on the Jubilee have been the consequence of the inadequate signalling system you refer to. The new system covers the whole line, rather than just the extension, but there have been teething troubles.

With the service now improving, I think the best thing we can do with the Jube is to leave it to settle down. Further work to reduce noise is therefore unlikely.

But more frequent trains will mean less overcrowding, so the journey experience should improve in that respect.

Rog T said...


You really should have corrected 691 trolleybus fan, when he said the Dome was a vanity project for Tony and Ken. John Major's government commissioned it, with Michael Heseltine being a supporter, believing that it would help regenerate the area. As for Ken, he became Mayor in 2000, after the Dome opened.

As to the long term aim. The O2 centre, which is what the Dome morphed into, is the worlds most successful music venue, so I'd say the regeneration was successful, if perhaps very expensive.

Despite being a lefty, my experience of being a music promoter/festival orgainiser told me that the approach to the dome from Tories and Labour was doomed to failure. If they'd got a company (Disney/Tussauds/Harvey Goldsmith/Me) and let them run the venue and get the entertainment on a 50 year lease, then it would have been far more successful far more quickly.

The Dome in it's original form was well worth a visit, but the whole concept of doing it for 1 year was completely bonkers. It is a great facility and one which brings people to London from around the world.